Every once in a great while, you come across a film that is just perfect. Top quality actors, excellent special effects, an award-winning script, and a theme relevant to everyone in one way or another.
"Brain Damage" is not that film. Which is what makes it better than most of those "perfect" movies you're thinking of.
And I'm not particularly saying that this movie sucks on any of those points. None of the actors are really bad, the script is surprisingly decent, and the theme works fairly well too. Some of the special effects could be said to be "awful", but I'm a B-movie freak. Bad special effects are the least of my concerns, and in some ways they help to make this movie better.
So what's the central premise behind "Brain Damage"? A young man, Brian, is stricken with a brain parasite which feeds him a potent and addicting hallucinogenic chemical. Once hooked, the unfortunate teen's life begins to unravel, costing him everything he holds near and dear.
"That doesn't sound so bad at all. In fact, it could make for a pretty moving story."
Except for the fact that the parasite talks. And sings. And demands that Brian supply him with victims so he can eat their brains. Where's your moving dramatic story now?
And it's exactly this premise that got me to see the movie in the first place. While most people would be put off about such an idea (virtually all of my friends), I flock to some of this insane bullshit. That's really the only way to describe it, insane bullshit.
Directed by Frank Henenlotter, the man who gave us "Basket Case" and it's sequels, the story is effectively a story about addiction. But it's told in the fashion that only Henenlotter could do successfully. And the good news, after "Basket Case" became a surprise success, someone gave the man a budget to work with. Not much of a budget, but a fair deal more than he had with his earlier work.
This allowed for some decent special effects to be worked in, as well as putting a polish on some of the bad special effects. When Brian has his first hallucinogenic experience, he stumbles upon a car junk yard and sees flashing neon lights pulsating through the broken windshields. While it can't compare with "Star Wars" style special effects, it's quite well done.
However, this is all quickly followed by the parasite's murder of the junk yard's security man, who frantically slaps and tugs and the parasite's tail, quite obviously glued to his head. And it's these moments, where the movie is obviously mocking it's own bad effects and silly ideas, that make the film gets it's best laughs. It's not unintentional humor, but rather intentional humor masquerading as unintentional, which only a truly genius filmmaker could pull off so well. How Henenlotter managed to get away with it, I don't know.
And the funniest moment in the film? I don't want to give away too much about the movie, but one poor lady thinks she's about to give Brian a blowjob, but ends up giving the brain parasite a pole-polishing instead. Simultaneously gruesome and hilarious, much of the movie crew walked out while filming this scene, although I've read somewhere that the actress featured thought it was hilarious. That could be complete fiction though, who knows.
The actors all fill their roles pretty well. Brian is played by Rick Hearst, who went on to work in several soap operas, even being nominated for an Emmy award. His acting talent can be seen here, not fully developed at times, but far better than most B-films manage to get. The supporting cast primarily consists of two people I've never heard of, Gordan McDonald and Jennifer Lowry (Brian's brother and girlfriend, respectively), and they do well enough in their own right.
Top acting awards, though, go to John Zacherle. He was famous for a while, back before I was born, playing a horror-movie-host for low grade scare flicks being broadcast on TV. I never saw any of this, but Brain Damage wouldn't be what it is without him. What does Zacherle do? He provides the voice of the parasite, Aylmer. With a clean, polished voice, the parasite is the exact opposite of what one would expect. Polite, yet at-times creepy, Zacherle's voice gives Aylmer a hint of charm where one would expect complete disgust.
The musical score was put together by someone you've never heard of. However, it does have some notable and interesting moments.
Earlier I mentioned the movie having a theme, and this is the only B-movie I can recall that had any sort of a theme. The movie's really a parable about drug addiction. One could remove the talking parasite, let Brian get addicted to heroin or coke, and have much the same story. Guy gets hooked, loses family and friends, blah blah blah. But even on the level of weird this movie achieves, the theme is still quite clear, and adds a nice touch to the movie.
If you can't stand bad special effects, don't watch this movie. If you think "Donnie Darko" was too strange for your tastes, don't watch this movie. If gore and sexuality are unsuitable subjects for your viewing pleasure, don't watch this movie. But if you like watching insane bullshit, or even if you have any sense of humor in the least, you could do far worse than giving "Brain Damage" a shot.
If you're still not sure about watching it, I'll say one last thing in favor of this. I have watched a lot of bad movies, B-flicks and low budget crap. But none of them have the "curious beauty" of the special effects during the final scene.